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OKC-area high schools begin summer workouts with safety protocols

In this 2015 file photo, weight equipment sits inside Tuttle High School's weight room. [Steve Sisney/The Oklahoman]
In this 2015 file photo, weight equipment sits inside Tuttle High School's weight room. [Steve Sisney/The Oklahoman]

An interesting blend of music blared from the speakers inside Newcastle High School’s weight room.

Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” and other lively songs echoed throughout the state-of-the-art facility Friday morning as football players performed their lifts and fed off each other’s energy.

For players and coaches, the workout provided a sense of normality that has been absent during the coronavirus pandemic.

Athletic programs in the metro have begun summer workouts, their first organized activities since March. Most schools, including Newcastle, resumed activities on June 8, but some started at a different time.

Several health precautions are in place, and things aren’t completely normal. Perkins-Tryon and Stillwater public schools even announced Sunday they have suspended athletic activities. Perkins-Tryon suspended activities until July 15 because of a positive COVID-19 case close to the program. Stillwater will not hold activities until at least Wednesday due to an increase of cases in Payne County.

For the other schools in the metro, athletes are excited to be back with their teammates.

Newcastle coach Jeff Brickman said he is holding voluntary workouts before they become mandatory on July 6. Sixty-seven of his 82 players showed up on the first day.

“I’d say 85% of our kids looked better than they did when we last saw them back in March,” Brickman said. “As coaches, we try to micromanage everything. Really, it’s these kids that are on the field, and they want to be good. They’re self-driven or they wouldn’t be out playing football anyways.”

Newcastle players are required to take their temperature before workouts. A person must leave if their temperature is above 100.4. Disinfectant products are applied to equipment after each session.

Precautions vary among districts, but each school is attempting to ensure safety.

U.S. Grant has implemented every available precaution inside its facility as the football team prepares for its inaugural Class 6A season. Along with taking temperatures before entering the building and disinfecting products before and after workouts, the team has provided each player with their own water bottle and required the use of facemasks while inside the building.

“We’re getting used to it still, but it’s just weird having to be tedious around the weight room,” athletic director and head football coach Alex Levescy said. “I’m used to attacking the weight room. That’s my mentality, that’s what I try to teach them. But we have to make adjustments to overcome adversity. That's what one thing this game has taught me, and that’s what I try to teach them so it’s just another obstacle to go through in life.”

On average, about half of the 40 U.S. Grant football players participate in summer workouts on a given day. And while that number is less than what Levescy would like, he says it has been beneficial for social distancing in the Generals’ small weight room.

To help lower the number of players in the weight room at one time, U.S. Grant splits into groups based on the amount of players in attendance. On a normal occasion, the team is split into two groups, one for outside conditioning and one for weight training. The separation allows the groups to have at most two or three people at a workstation inside the facility.

Levescy said he will try to give each player the same workout partner throughout the summer so if anyone experiences symptoms, he will know who to double check as a result.

“If you get sent home for whatever, with high temperature, you have to sit out for a week,” Levescy said. “You come back after that week and you still have those symptoms, we treat it like a concussion where you have to go get cleared by a doctor. So that’s just the little things we have to do.”

After one week of summer workouts, no U.S. Grant players were sent home due to a failed entry test. The lowest reported temperature has been around 96, and the highest has been 99.1.

“We have to keep jumping through these hoops to make sure we have a football season this year,” Levescy said. “That’s the end goal is to have a football season.”

For other sports, such as baseball, team workouts are not as active.

Some districts, including Edmond, are allowing only fall sports teams to use school facilities, forcing athletes to find other places to train.

Members of the Edmond Santa Fe baseball team are using Performance Course, an athletic center in Shawnee that has become the training site for several sports teams in the metro, including Choctaw football.

Baseball players aren’t competing for their schools this summer, but some are playing on travel teams.

“I just told all my guys that are on summer teams to go get after it,” Choctaw coach Shane Hawk said. “I’ll open up the cages, and we can do some stuff during the week a couple times.”

Hawk says he recognizes the typical schedule for a baseball player is to prepare and develop during the summer season with their school and then go play on the weekends with their travel teams in tournaments and events.

He said his goal isn’t to disrupt that but rather promote and develop his players in the summer when the games don’t mean as much as the spring season.

“I’m not for letting it rip with Choctaw until November or December anyway,” Hawk said. “There’s ways around it and ways to work with it, and I think we do a good job of that.”

Nick Sardis

Nick Sardis joined The Oklahoman in 2017, and he covers high school sports. Born and raised in Norman, he played baseball at Norman North High School and is a student at the University of Oklahoma. Read more ›

James Jackson

James D. Jackson joined The Oklahoman in January 2020 to cover high school sports. He a University of Central Oklahoma graduate. During his time at UCO, James served as a sports reporter and Editor-in-Chief of the student newspaper, The Vista.... Read more ›